Friday, September 21, 2018
News Roundup

DOT abandoning Coastal Connector toll road that upset Marion County horse farmers

The Florida Department of Transportation announced Friday that it has decided to kill off a controversial toll road called the Coastal Connector that had Marion County horse farmers and others in that region in an uproar.

"At this time, the department has determined that the best approach to addressing traffic issues in the area is to abandon the new corridor concepts that were preliminarily discussed in the planning studies," DOT secretary Mike Dew wrote in a letter to Marion County Commission Chairwoman Kathy Bryant.

The highway was proposed to link Interstate 75 to the Suncoast 2, or the planned extension of the Suncoast Parkway. Instead, Dew said his agency will "step back and focus on improvements to I-75."

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Marion County’s horse farm owners say ‘Whoa!’ to proposed toll road.

In June, after controversy erupted over the routes proposed for the highway, Dew had said the DOT would merely postpone work on the Coastal Connector. Abandoning it is a far more radical step, and an unusual one for the department that under Gov. Rick Scott has focused on building or expanding more toll roads than regular ones.

Scott spokesman John Tupps declined late Friday to comment on the DOT’s decision.

"We will let the secretary’s letter speak for itself," Tupps said. DOT officials also declined to comment further.

An organization representing the horse farmers, known as Horse Farms Forever, said in a news release that its members were "elated" to hear about the Dew letter.

The Coastal Connector controversy grew out of a desire to alleviate traffic on perpetually clogged I-75 through Central Florida.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE:Whoa! State postpones controversial toll road through horse farms.

Two years ago a committee of local leaders the DOT set up to study routes for a new highway through rural areas of Marion, Levy and Alachua counties to divert cars and trucks from I-75 recommended against building any of them. The committee recommended the DOT focus on fixing I-75 first — the solution that Dew’s letter says the agency will now pursue.

Instead of following the committee’s recommendation when it was first made, the agency unveiled several proposed routes for a new toll road it called the Coastal Connector. Maps showed that the routes would slice through an area around Ocala known as the "Horse Capital of the World," home to Florida’s $2.6 billion equine industry. It has produced two of horse racing’s Triple Crown winners, American Pharoah and Affirmed.

"When the Coastal Connector was announced … we all woke up and were shocked to learn the FDOT had planned a toll road right through the heart of Marion’s horse community," Bernard Little, who with his wife owns a 550-acre farm called Horsefeathers, said in June. "It would devastate the equine industry."

The owners of stables and breeding farms in that area banded together to fight it, drawing support from local and state officials, including Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Both the Marion County Commission and the Citrus County Commission passed resolutions calling for the FDOT to say whoa. Marion officials said they didn’t even want the state agency to continue studying any of the routes through that region, much less begin construction.

The opponents of the Coastal Connector also included people who opposed the extension of the lightly used $507-million Suncoast Parkway known as the Suncoast 2. The toll road extension, expected to cost $134-million, is now being built through the Withlacoochee State Forest, although regional planners say it is unlikely to attract much traffic unless it is somehow linked to I-75 through something like the Coastal Connector.

Contact Craig Pittman at [email protected] Follow @craigtimes.

Comments
Sheriff: Pinellas deputy fired for alerting inmate about cell search

Sheriff: Pinellas deputy fired for alerting inmate about cell search

A Pinellas County detention deputy was terminated on Friday for revealing confidential information about a scheduled search of jail cells for weapons and other contraband, said Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.Detention deputy Michelle Parsons, 48, adm...
Updated: 19 minutes ago
Hillsborough school district releases referendum wish list

Hillsborough school district releases referendum wish list

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District on Friday released a long-awaited, school-by-school list of 1,785 projects to be funded by a proposed half-cent sales tax hike.The list, now on the district website, includes playgrounds for Anderson El...
Updated: 1 hour ago
For starters: Rays at Blue Jays, trying to bounce back

For starters: Rays at Blue Jays, trying to bounce back

UPDATE, 6:15: Cash talked about how tough Thursday's loss was, that he doubted many on the team got a good night's sleep. He said he took Kiermaier out to get Meadows an at-bat and doesn't know if Kiermaier would have caught the Kendrys Morales bloop...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Retro Fitness sets first of several area locations in Citrus Park

Retro Fitness sets first of several area locations in Citrus Park

In early fall, Retro Fitness will open a 17,000 square foot fitness facility in Citrus Park, and it plans for more Tampa Bay area locations.Founded in 2005, Retro Fitness has 153 clubs throughout the United States and is the official fitness center o...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Joe and Son's Olive Oils, a legacy Ybor business, finds new roots in Carrollwood

Joe and Son's Olive Oils, a legacy Ybor business, finds new roots in Carrollwood

Andrea Gebbia grew up in Carrollwood, and now she is bringing the family business to the neighborhood of her youth.In late fall, Joe and Son’s Olive Oils is slated to open a second location."I feel so blessed having the ability to grow my...
Updated: 2 hours ago
The guys who brought you Tampa’s Armature Works plan high-end offices next door, and they’ve already signed a lease with med-tech company AxoGen

The guys who brought you Tampa’s Armature Works plan high-end offices next door, and they’ve already signed a lease with med-tech company AxoGen

TAMPA — Coming soon from the developers who brought you the Armature Works: Heights Union, two high-end office buildings next door to the trendy food hall, event space and co-working complex overlooking the Hillsborough River.Developers said Friday t...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Updated: 2 hours ago
Chi Chop + Kung Fu Tea looks to succeed where others failed

Chi Chop + Kung Fu Tea looks to succeed where others failed

RIVEVIEW – Amy Lin knows that her newest Chi Chop + Kung Fu Tea store is in a location where previous businesses have not lasted.The short-lived Tap’s Brewhouse & Deli and even shorter-lived Top Shelf Sports Bar and Grill tried to r...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Amy Scherzer’s Diary: The Weekly Wrapup for Sept. 21

Amy Scherzer’s Diary: The Weekly Wrapup for Sept. 21

Lions Eye Ball: An Optical Illusion If only Justin Sight could vanish corneal blindness, like the cards the legally-blind magician made disappear at the Eye Ball: An Optical Illusion, the 12th annual benefit for the Lions Eye Institute for Transplan...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Dana Young, Janet Cruz spar over guns, schools, environment in crucial Senate race

Dana Young, Janet Cruz spar over guns, schools, environment in crucial Senate race

TAMPA — During a showdown Friday in Florida’s most hotly contested state Senate race, Democratic challenger Janet Cruz launched fireworks at Dana Young over education funding, the environment and guns.Young, the Republican incumbent in District 18, r...
Updated: 2 hours ago